GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Mothers who have lost their sons to gun violence in Grand Rapids came together on Monday to warn area youth to stop their ways before it's too late. The moms call themselves Mothers on a Mission. They spoke about their own losses in hopes of inspiring others to turn their lives around.
The group of mothers said that many area youth don't realize how many people are affected when someone is killed on our streets.
"We are not police. We are not detectives," said organizer, Elijah Libbett. "We are not trying to solve no murders. We are trying to stop them before they start."
Jerline Riley said that her son was shot dead in the front doorway of her Grand Rapids home back in 1994. Even as time passes, recent violence in her neighborhood keeps the tragedy in her mind every day.
"This month has made me want to leave this city for the first time," said Riley, "but then I realize that violence is a spirit and that it travels everywhere you go."
The mothers rely on each other to deal with the loss of their children who they died unnecessarily, they said. "We talk on the phone," said Jacqueline Kelley. "We help each other. We have days that we are down. We call each other, and believe me, we bind together."
Kelley's son Qwaze was killed in August, 1999. On Halloween, 2013 her other son, Dominick Floyd, 23, was shot dead in the parking lot of the New York Fried Chicken in Grand Rapids. Kelley said she is still trying to heal and she doesn't want other mothers to deal with the loss she has felt twice.
"They would think first, look at the whole big picture. What is it going to solve? You kill someone, your life is gone. And if they kill you, their life is gone," said Kelley.
The moms say that people need to think before they act, let go of unnecessary anger and save not only their own lives but prevent the grief of mothers like them.
"Life is too short," said Valerie Figures. "They have to think before they act on something dumb."
Derrick Vance said that he is determined to reach out to the youth in his neighborhood to remind them they can change their ways and come together. He warned of the unhealthy cycle where there are young men who are growing up without their fathers because those dad either killed or were killed.
"They always have to replay this in their mind: either my dad is prison for murder or my dad unfortunately was murdered," said Vance. "And that is something their child has to deal with forever."
Both of Kelley's sons were fathers at the time of their deaths. So she became a grandmother taking on the extra role of helping to raise the next generation, hoping to not repeat mistakes from the past.
Kelley gave an example of how one's thinking can change: "Let it go. You are a baby. Look at that person again in life and say I'm so glad that I didn't follow my first mind. I'm so glad that someone like Jackie Kelley is able to tell you right now: pray for them. Pray for each other."